Australia and the Philippines are exploring the possibility of joint patrols in the disputed South China Sea, where recent “aggressive activities” by the Chinese Coast Guard towards a Philippine vessel saw Beijing’s envoy in Manila summoned by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles said on Wednesday that he had discussed joint patrolling with Philippine Defence Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr.
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“As countries which are committed to the global rules-based order, it is natural that we should think about ways in which we can cooperate in this respect,” Marles said in a news conference at the Philippine Department of National Defense in Quezon City.
“We did talk today about the possibility of exploring joint patrols and we will continue that work and we hope that comes to fruition soon,” he said.
The possibility of the Philippines and Australia holding joint patrols in the South China Sea comes on the heels of similar discussions between Manila and Washington, and amid a backdrop of China’s increasingly muscular approach in pressing its extensive territorial claims in the contested sea.
Marles said that the Philippines and Australia are exploring the possibility of conducting joint patrols in the South China Sea.
— PTVph (@PTVph) February 22, 2023
Jay Tarriela, the Philippine Coast Guard’s spokesperson on South China Sea issues, told CNN Philippines on Monday that talks with the United States have advanced beyond the infancy stage and that the likelihood of carrying out joint patrols was high.
Tarriela did not provide details on the scale or timing of the proposed patrols, which come after the Pentagon said this month the US and the Philippines had “agreed to restart joint maritime patrols in the South China Sea”.
“There is already a clear path of possibility since the Defense Department of the United States has also supported the joint patrol with the Philippine Navy and the US Navy so there is a certainty for this particular joint patrols to happen between the coast guard of both countries,” Tarriela said.
Rommel Jude Ong, former vice commander of the Philippine Navy, told the Reuters news agency on Monday the idea of a Philippine and US coastguard deployment in the South China Sea instead of the navy will “mitigate any miscalculation and prevent China from finding an excuse to escalate tension” in the waterway.
Earlier this month, Manila accused China’s coastguard of aiming a “military-grade laser” at one of its coastguard vessels that was supporting a resupply mission for troops on an atoll in the South China Sea.
Manila blasted what it said was China’s “aggressive activities” in the South China Sea, and President Marcos Jr summoned the Chinese ambassador to express his “serious concern” over the harassment of the Philippine Coast Guard vessel. The incident prompted expressions of concern from other countries, including Japan, Australia and the US.
China has refuted the Philippine account of the incident, which it said did not reflect the truth. China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said last week that his country’s coastguard had acted in a “professional and restrained” manner towards the Philippine ship.
On Tuesday, a Philippine Coast Guard aircraft flew over the South China Sea as part of efforts to boost its presence in contested waters and protect what it says is its maritime territory.
In a statement, the Philippine Coast Guard said it saw a Chinese coastguard vessel and dozens of what it suspected were boats manned by Chinese militia around the Second Thomas and Sabina Shoals, both of which are inside the Philippines’ 200-mile (321km) exclusive economic zone.
The Philippine Coast Guard ordered the suspected Chinese militia to leave, telling them “they were not authorised to loiter nor swarm these shoals”, according to the statement.
China’s embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.